Despite Modi’s popularity, party needs regional leaders to win states.
The Modi-Shah BJP seems to have peaked already. Since the high of May 2019, when the party surprised itself winning a record 302 Lok Sabha seats, it has been downhill for the saffron jodi. It was as if they had taken their eye off the electoral machine they had so meticulously erected ahead of the heady 2014 campaign. That momentum lost its energy in the Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. But, again, it was full-throttle energy that saw it triumph with flying colours in the ensuing parliamentary poll.
However, soon the party fell victim to neglect and arrogance, failing to win Haryana and performing below par in Maharashtra despite winning a simple majority in a pre-poll alliance with the Shiv Sena. It is the subsequent events leading eventually to the loss of power in the state to the new partnership between the Sena, NCP and the Congress that have unnerved the rank and file of the saffron party. Ordinary workers feel disheartened not so much by the betrayal of the Sena as by the failure of the central leadership to checkmate the betrayer. That really hurts them.
Devendra Fadnavis was in any case in no position to fathom the mind of Sharad Pawar who had played the power game for decades. But by the time the central leadership moved, it was too late. A certain sense of ennui had gripped the party leadership. The same could- not-care less attitude that was seen at the time of the formation of the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh last year, when the BJP could have won over the same half a dozen footloose MLAs who eventually settled the terms of business with Kamal Nath, was clear in the days after the Sena first broke the alliance.
Why the central leadership would be unenthusiastic about Shivraj Chouhan continuing as Chief Minister, and instead suffer a Congress government in the state, might reveal tangled relationships of senior BJP leaders. But allowing a major state to slip out of your hands when you had it virtually in your grasp spotlights the same unconcern for the party fortunes. As the men in command, the Modi-Shah duo cannot allow the impression to grow that they no longer bother if the party loses a state or two. It is not a state or two though, the BJP footprint has now shrunk to less than half the country.
One reason could be the Prime Minister is increasingly concentrating on running the government, not the easiest of tasks at the best of times. Modi now, in all probability, sees himself something of an elder statesman, unwilling to dirty his hands in the manoeuvrings and manipulations that attended government-formation in Madhya Pradesh last year and in Maharashtra last month. Yet, a strong BJP alone can bolster his cause, a strong Modi without a strong BJP is unimaginable.
Two, the induction of the extraordinary organiser, Amit Shah, in government as an all powerful Home Minister has necessarily meant a lack of attention for party affairs. True, J.P. Nada is BJP president-designate, but his skills as an organiser and an election-winner are yet to be tested. Shah does make himself available for the party, but given that he virtually supervises all ministries aside from running Home, means a lack of attention to party affairs.
Now this is not to suggest that the dimming electoral fortunes of the BJP are only due to the top duo diverting energies and time to the government. After five years it is natural for the voters to be disenchanted with any party in power. The love affair between a leader, any leader, and the led loses its intensity after a time. Indira Gandhi won a near three-fourths majority in the 1971 parliamentary poll. By 1974, she had become a hate figure for a good number of those who had voted for her only three years previously. The loss of Maharashtra, particularly under the circumstances it occurred, should serve as a warning to the saffron party. As in life, in politics too nothing is permanent.
Yes, without doubt Modi remains by far the most popular national leader with no Opposition figure able to match him. But just as he had emerged slowly but certainly from Gujarat to take on the once mighty Congress, who knows when and how a challenger might emerge to take him on, especially if the economy continues to slip.
ONLY HALF THE TRUTH, MR SINGH
For former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh truth has always been flexible, depending on whether it serves his own selfish interest. Take the latest affront to honesty. Speaking at a commemorative event for the late Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, he put the entire blame for the 1984 pogrom against Sikhs on then Home Minister, the late Narasimha Rao. He said despite Gujral urging him to deploy the Army, Rao did not, and allowed the massacre to go on unhindered. It mattered little to Singh that Rao was his original benefactor who had pulled him out of post-retirement anonymity and made him Finance Minister. He should have spared him this ignominy.
But Rao has been long dead. Singh has to please his current benefactor who made him Prime Minister. That is why Singh would not say that Rao was under orders from then Prime Minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, not to summon the Army without his prior orders. Four thousand Sikhs were killed in cold blood because Rajiv Gandhi and his coterie were bent on “teaching Sikhs a lesson”. Incidentally, Singh was then a Secretary in the Finance Ministry. What to talk of resigning, he even failed to utter a word against the pogrom against fellow Sikhs. An out-and-out time-server is what Manmohan Singh really has been all his life.
PC LACKS CREDIBILITY
Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram seems to believe that everyone suffers from amnesia, failing to recall even lower GDP and sky high onion prices under his watch. Besides, when was he at ease with RBI Governors that he should taunt the Modi government for failing to retain Raghuram Rajan and Urjit Patel? A former Governor has written a book detailing his plight at the hands of Chidambaram. His name is D. Subbarao. Chidambaram seems to suffer from illusions of greatness, talking of an attempt to suppress his voice. Even the people back home in Sivaganga care little for his voice unless DMK lends it electoral heft. Making light of corruption charges thus fools no one.
HEARD INCENTRAL HALL
Talking of the sub-5% GDP in the latest quarter, a wag commented: “Where is the surprise? The Hindutva party will only achieve the Hindu rate of growth, isn’t it?”